Fostering a Servant’s Heart in Your Children
David W. Hegg • June, 2016
In our self-focused society, serving others is seldom seen as a necessary value. The goal is to be at the top of the heap, with those below catering to your every desire. For many years our children have been immersed in a self-esteem movement that declares they are all outstanding and excellent. Consequently, we are watching a sense of entitlement become standard equipment in generation after generation. From society’s point of view, those who are content to serve others have given up on themselves, and on their dreams.
But God sees it much differently. He is in the business of transforming self-centered consumers into joyful servants who see others as more important than themselves. This attitude means Christ-followers are swimming upstream against the current of our “me first” culture. Yet, as servants of God and others, we are following the example of our Savior who “did not come to be serve, but to serve, and give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45).
For Christian parents, today’s culture presents a monumental challenge. We want to raise our children to have servants’ hearts, but our culture is screaming a different message in their ears. What are we to do? What follows are 12 suggestions for training your children to love serving, and see service as a means of worship to God.
1. Teach your children about God
All our parenting must begin here. Put a priority on making sure your children understand who God is, and the position he holds. After all, in reality, we are all to be servants of God. That's where it starts ... with his greatness and worth.
Start your instruction where the Bible starts: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Be careful not to begin with a modern caricature of God as the cosmic Santa, or the God who is simply love to everyone. Present God as the Bible presents him: almighty, sovereign, all-knowing, and near to those who love him and follow his commands.
Remember, what we think about when we think about God is the most important thing about us. Labor hard to begin your child’s education about God in the right way, using the Bible to describe both God’s being and his actions toward mankind.
As you use Scripture, you will also be teaching your children the Bible is true because it is the very word of God himself. Explain the privilege that is ours in having God’s own thoughts and commands available to us in a language we can understand. And be sure you add that this privilege brings with it the responsibility to honor God’s Word with our obedience.
2. Teach your children about sin
From an early age your children will sin. Use it as an opportunity to teach this most important lesson: your children are born sinners, and so were you!
Again, teach the reality of sin as the Bible does, in Genesis 3. Show how God asked Adam and Eve to trust him, and obey his commands as their best option. Then show how the first couple were led astray by Satan, and decided to live life on their own terms, according to their own desires rather than the commands of God. They sinned, not because they had to, but because the wanted to! And the consequences of their sin continue to plague each of us today. Sin never wins, and your children need to learn this early on. Sin is more than disappointing or disobeying Mom and Dad. It is a direct act of rebellion against almighty God.
3. Teach your children about Jesus
The natural progression, as your children gain a knowledge of God and sin, is to find the solution to their brokenness in the redemptive story of Jesus. Understand that teaching Jesus will have no urgency unless your children recognize their sin as rebellion against God, making them criminals in the court of heaven. The good news of forgiveness by faith in Jesus is only good if the bad news of their guilt is understood.
As you teach about Jesus, do so the way the Bible describes him. He is not merely a friend, or helpful counselor, or life coach. He is God the Son, 100% God and 100% man. He is the King of heaven, and he brought the kingdom of heaven to earth in his incarnation, inaugurating that kingdom reign that will one day culminate with his glorious return. Teach your children he willingly took our sins on himself, withstanding the wrath of God we deserved on the cross, and then triumphed over death through his glorious resurrection. He is now at the right hand of the Father, interceding for all believers, and is with us wherever we go. He is also carrying on his redemptive work through the church of which he is the Head, the Senior Pastor.
4. Teach your children the gospel … over and over and over
Don’t for a minute think the gospel is only meant to describe the minimum amount of truth your children must believe to get on the bus to heaven. Rather, as you teach your children about the God of the Bible, and about their sin and its drastic effects, and about Jesus as Lord and Savior, you’ll be teaching them the “good news” over and over and over.
Teach your children about saving faith. Make sure you understand it is a gift (Eph. 2:8-10) given by God the Spirit by means of the gospel message. The Spirit “rides in” on the gospel bringing repentance and faith, in his time. The exact relationship between the Spirit’s work through the gospel, and our accountability to believe the gospel, and entrust our very lives to God on the basis of the promises he has made to us in Jesus, will be a mystery until Jesus himself explains it to us in heaven.
But this much we know. God commands that we hear and believe the gospel, and entrust our lives to him. God commands that we trust - by faith alone - in the promises he has made to us, namely that he will accept Jesus’ death as though it were ours, and accept Jesus’ righteousness as though it were ours, declaring us to be justified in his sight, and forgiven eternally.
In order to teach your children about God, sin, Jesus, and the whole gospel, you’ll need to know it backwards and forwards. As well, you’ll need to have surrendered your life to God, acknowledging your own sin, and trusting fully in the salvation extended to you in Jesus.
5. Teach your children to work hard
The first 4 suggestions relate to the foundational theology every parent must know well, and consistently use to build the right environment in the home for righteous living to thrive. Next come some suggestions on the kind of ethical living that will grow out of a good, biblical, theological foundation in the home.
Teach your children to understand and value work. Instill in them a good work ethic.
After God created Adam he put him in the garden to work it, and protect it. Notice work was given to man before sin ever entered into the world. Work was God’s way of allowing man to imitate him. God, the first workman, gave work to Adam as a means of worship, of representing God in the midst of his creation as his viceroy.
Today one of the first ways we teach our children to “live beyond themselves” is to give them chores to complete. Given that serving always demands effort, learning to enjoy honest, hard work is a must if we are to raise children with servants’ hearts. And for those who understand the sovereign position God holds in our universe, our work can be a means of honoring and glorifying him. Whatever the task, if done to the praise of God, it is an act of worship.
Teach your children the value of doing a job well. Work with them, and then allow them to do the work, even if it isn’t up to your standards. Carefully instruct, and correct, without demeaning their effort. Applaud their work, and build in them the joy of accomplishing task well, to the glory of God.
6. Teach your children delayed gratification
A dangerous component of the “entitlement” attitude so pervasive in our day is an addiction to immediate gratification. We want comfort, excitement, pleasure … and we want it, and deserve it, right now!
Part of developing a good work ethic is to recognize good things are often found on the other side of a long obedience in the same direction. The Bible calls us to “perseverance” which presupposes life will pose challenges all along the way. Those who never learn to persevere will find themselves too often walking out rather than working through when obstacles arise.
Throughout their lives, your children will face opposition, hurdles, adversity, and suffering. Those whose emotional and spiritual muscles have been strengthened along the way will persevere, and reap the myriad benefits of doing so.
For Christ-followers, perseverance is a by-product of a loving focus on Jesus Christ in every situation. The writer to the Hebrews put it this way …
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, andsin which clings so closely, andlet us runwith endurance the race that isset before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despisingthe shame, andis seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1,2)
7. Teach your children to recognize right from wrong based on biblical ethics
As mentioned above, it is important to use the Bible to teach your children about God, sin, Jesus, the Gospel, and what it means to live obediently before God. This will instill in them the conviction that the Bible is true, and authoritative. This will be extremely important when it comes to teaching them right and wrong.
Our society has rapidly fallen into the error that absolute truth probably doesn’t exist. This allows each person to decide for themselves what is right or wrong, which always causes a society to devolve into chaos.
In the Bible God is speaking, and declaring what is right and what is wrong. The importance of grounding your children’s ethics – their convictions on right and wrong – in the everlasting truth of God’s Word cannot be overstated. If you allow the culture to dictate their ethics, you will consign them to the path of heartache. If, however, you set their ethical feet on the solid foundation of God’s truth, and if God the Spirit grants them saving faith and new life, you will see your children live lives honoring to Jesus, and beneficial to his kingdom.
8. Model righteousness before your children
As you are teaching your children to obey God and honor the teaching of his word it is essential for you to model that teaching in your own life. As we all know, with children more is “caught” than “taught.” No amount of biblical instruction can make up for the gap between what we teach and how we live. It is imperative for parents to “live out” the truth of God’s word, making it accessible through their lives for their children to see.
9. Live out love, and lose the legalism
There are two primary ways parents can stifle their children’s obedience to Christ. First, as mentioned above, they can live hypocritically, teaching one thing while living another.
Secondly, they can parent legalistically. Legalism is simply creating and enforcing man-made rules as though they were God’s rules. Parents often are drawn into legalism because it is so much easier than taking the time to explain God’s heart on matters of right and wrong. But legalism primarily teaches children what not to do, and risks instilling in them the idea that living for God is all about not doing "bad" things. What gets lost is the essence of what it means to "follow Christ." Holiness is primarily about being "for" God, pursuing righteousness, delighting in the Word, prayer, worship, and mission. That this pursuit has, as the natural consequence, an aversion to sin is merely the consequence of a passion for God. Teach you children that loving God is their first and greatest privilege.
Some things in Scripture are very clear. We are to love the Lord, abstain from sexual immorality, drunkenness, and lying, for example. But there are many areas where the Bible allows for freedom, tempered by wisdom, usually dependent on circumstances. In these instances, parents are free to lay down the rules they believe will best instruct and protect their children. They will parent well if they also take the time to explain what God expects, and how their parental rules are meant to help the children understand, honor, and obey the truth of God as found in the Bible. But, when parental rules are made out to be God’s rules, they have overstepped their bounds.
Legalism creates two enormous problems in the lives of children. First, it can easily embitter their hearts since legalistic rules often are harsh and taught without clear reasons as to their benefit.
Second, and more importantly, when man-made rules are made out to be God’s rules, it can greatly confuse children. This happens when they eventually are able to read and study the Bible for themselves and discover their parents’ rules have no basis in Scripture. At this point they will wonder what other supposedly Scriptural teachings are actually only the legalistic opinions of their parents.
It is my belief that legalistic parenting has embittered and hardened more hearts than almost any other parental failing. If you want to raise honest, Bible-believing, Christ-exalting children who long to serve Christ and others, parent honestly, biblically, and in a manner that exalts Jesus as Lord.
10. Let you children see you serving others
As a parent you are to be your child’s first model of service. It is hoped their first recognition of the grace of serving will come from watching you serve joyfully, selflessly, and for the purpose of magnifying the glory of God.
Whether it is entertaining people in your home, helping a neighbor move, serving at the homeless shelter, teaching Sunday School, or participating in a short-term missions trip, you cannot overestimate the value your children will receive from knowing you are serving others in the name of the Lord.
11. Enlist your children to serve alongside you as they are able
As your children watch you serve eventually they will want to serve with you. Find ways to involve them in your service to Christ. Applaud their desire, nurture their passion, and always be guiding them past the actual service to understand they are actually partnering with Jesus in the adventure of Kingdom work.
12. Champion your children’s desire to serve others, from an early age
At some point your children are going to launch out on their own in service to Christ. This may mean serving in Summer Adventure, or even going on a missions trip by themselves. Be ready to say yes as they mature to the point were such opportunities become a reality.
Remember, your goal is to raise a strong, confident, courageous, winsome, and humble servant of Christ whose heart is pure, and whose desire to serve has grown out of a strong faith in Christ. Don’t’ be surprised if God determines to use them far beyond what you can imagine. Be ready to champion their godly desires, and pray that you will not stand in the way of what God intends to do with your children. After all, they are his first and foremost.